In this signature espnW series, we sit down for a candid Q&A with a remarkable person. Our aim is to cover topics high and low, deep and less so, to present a fresh look at folks we think we know and meet some others we wish we'd known all along. Welcome to The Conversation.
Caution: Adult themes and language ahead.
Who: Ronda Rousey, undefeated women's UFC bantamweight champion.
Who else: Her best friend, Marina Shafir.
Where: Threadgill's Restaurant, Austin, Texas.
When: March 14, 2015.
Ronda Rousey: I think we should have a prickly pear margarita. I worked hard the last couple days. I deserve it.
Allison Glock: I wholeheartedly agree. What size?
RR: [side-eyeing] Uh, large. I'm f------ Ronda Rousey. [Laughs.] I'm officially changing my name to "F------ Ronda Rousey."
WAITRESS: Can we get your drinks?
RR: I want a prickly pear margarita! Ten ounce. And get some top-shelf tequila.
WAITRESS: It only comes one way. Can I just see your ID?
RR: Here's my bartender's license. Do you want to see that?
AG: You have to have a license to bartend?
RR: In California, yeah. As soon as I turned 21, I was bartending. I learned so much from the job, social lessons I didn't learn from judo. Especially about doing press.
AG: How's that?
RR: As a bartender, I am having pretty much the identical conversation over and over all day, but I still have to be present and genuine with every single response and try to get the other person to like me because that's what gets you tips. And really, how is that different from media? I did an appearance with fans recently, and people were like, "Are you getting tired of this?" And I'm thinking, "No, this is the same as Mother's Day at Gladstones. Instead of giving out drinks, I'm giving out signed pictures."
AG: You worked at Gladstones in Malibu?
RR: I wore the red polo and the blue hat. The khakis. And then they made me start wearing skirts. It was bulls---. I got skorts instead. I wasn't about to be working in a skirt.
AG: You've evolved from not caring about clothes at all to being somewhat into fashion.
RR: Actually, my coach started it. All the guys at my gym are Armenian and extremely well dressed. I was rolling in looking like a bum, mostly because I was wearing clothes I'd had since I was 17. I owned, like, four outfits, and they weren't in the best of shape. So my coach said, "Ronda, you have to dress up a little more. Put on makeup in the morning. Make it a habit." When I started making a bit of money, I got better clothes, and now I'm sponsored by Buffalo David Bitton. I'm wearing it right now [points to her gray, perforated T-shirt and camel-colored leather jacket].
AG: Yours is the first fashion sponsorship anyone in MMA has ever gotten.
RR: Yes! And now that I'm into it, I look at fashion all the time. You know, "Who are you wearing?" I kinda feel bad because sometimes the worlds clash. The last fight, at the staredown on press day, I was wearing this white, leather Alexander McQueen dress, and I was going to post it, but then I worried maybe I shouldn't because people might think that I'm not serious about MMA.
AG: I don't think there is any risk of that. Besides, it would be a bit of a double standard given someone like Conor McGregor is such a dandy. No one is accusing him of not being a serious athlete.
RR: No kidding, right? Ultimately, though, I didn't tag the photo. I was like, "Alexander doesn't pay me. Screw it." I do get gifted some things. I have a stylist now because I've got several trips coming and I don't have that many outfits. A lot of my best clothes I buy at photo shoots because I don't have time to shop. I actually bought that McQueen dress from the ESPN 15th anniversary photo shoot. I bought it from you guys, so thank you for making me look really hot.
AG: You're welcome. [She puts on an oversized trucker cap the restaurant just gave her, snaps a photo.] That looks pretty hot, too.
RR: [Makes a goofy face] I've got a really good hat head. But my hair is still done, so the struggle is real. Do I cover the amazing hair? Or do I show how great my head is in hats?
AG: You gotta go back and forth. You gotta mix it up.
RR: I gotta gesture with it and take it on and off. [She does just that, starts laughing.]
AG: Are you fussy about your food when you're not training?
RR: I try to keep healthy-ish, but I'm so on point when I'm in camp that having a vegetable wrap would actually only be healthy-ish because of the wrap on it.
AG: The wrap is the sin? That's a lot of sacrifice.
RR: Yeah. Like last night, I got the fried calamari and I took all the bread off before dipping it, and that was my treat. And I had one little rip of the cotton candy because I thought maybe gourmet cotton candy would be different. It wasn't. And I ate all the raspberries off the desserts. Everyone else had dessert. I ate the raspberries. And I wouldn't even do that during camp. Let me show you what my training diet looks like. [Takes out her phone, pulls up a sample menu.] Here we go. 8 a.m.: Two teaspoons oat bran, two teaspoons chia seeds, two teaspoons hemp seeds; 10 a.m.: Train; 11:45: Post-exercise smoothie; 12 p.m.: Farmer's scramble: one whole egg, plus two egg whites, two sides of turkey bacon; 4 p.m.: Snack: one apple, one-fourth cup raw almonds, one-fourth cup raw cashews; 6 p.m.: Train. Post-exercise smoothie, da, da, da. Before bed: Chamomile tea. Everything's got an hour, an amount, everything.
AG: And you follow it to the letter?
RR: Yeah. And instead of vitamins, I have this giant shake twice a day, so it's all fresh vegetables and fruits: a whole beet, a whole apple, two carrots, four strawberries, one cup of blueberries, two handfuls of red grapes, one whole lemon, one handful of spinach, one handful of kale, one-fourth handful of parsley, two stalks of celery, two tablespoons of hemp seeds, two tablespoons of chia seeds, one tablespoon of coconut oil, one chard leaf, no stem.
AG: Just the one chard leaf.
RR: [Laughs.] Just the one, yeah. Listen, after I stopped competing in judo, before I began fighting MMA, I partied hard. I felt like I'd been training my whole life and missed out on the whole good-time club scene.
AG: How long did that debauchery last?
RG: Long enough. It ended after being on the other side of the bar. Bartending took the romanticism out of drinking. Any time I saw a white chick go, "Woo!", it was not hot. There is nothing sexy about a drunk girl. You really don't know how dumb you look.
AG: Speaking of letting off steam, do you dance or sing?
RR: I'm a terrible singer, but I'm not shy about it. I'm shy about dancing.
AG: Do you do karaoke?
RR: I sang karaoke in Japan, but they didn't have the right song. I've always wanted to sing "Take Me Home Tonight," but I've never gotten the chance.
AG: Wow, if only we had more time. Do you prefer a shower or bath?
RR: A bath. I have a candle permanently on my Jacuzzi, because I love me some candles.
AG: Cat person or dog person?
RR: Dog. My dog, Mochi, she changed my life.
AG: In what way?
RR: Knowing I was responsible for another living thing. When I got her, I decided even if I was a loser, my dog didn't deserve to suffer for it. So though I was bartending and working three jobs, I made sure I woke up extra early in the morning to drive her to doggy day care. The first $35 of my shift went to Mochi. Even when I was eating Top Ramen noodles, I bought her top-shelf dog food because it wasn't her fault that I was broke. There were times when I lived in my car, and I was like, "I have a dog, I need to ..."
AG: You lived in your car?
RR: For a week or so once, yeah, after judo, before MMA. And I realized I couldn't let that situation ever happen again because what would my dog do? It put pressure on me to succeed when I was responsible for another living thing.
AG: You seem to put pressure on yourself regardless.
RR: Pretty much. I figure, what's the worst that could happen?
AG: You could have projectile diarrhea in front of everyone you respect.
RR: Yeah, I guess. But compared to soldiers fighting wars or families in refugee camps, that's really not a big deal, is it?
AG: What do you wish you could change about yourself?
RR: A lot of things. I wish I could cook. I wish I could speak Spanish. I want to speak Spanish and Armenian and Russian.
AG: What is your biggest vice?
RR: Buffalo wings.
AG: What is the last television show you binge-watched?
RR: [The HBO documentary series] "Vice." I watched all of the first two seasons. And I like Bill Maher a lot.
AG: Have you been on his show?
RR: No, I'm not that cool. There's a lot of pressure on that panel. Some people, they just bomb. I don't want to look dumb in front of Bill Maher. [Pauses for a beat.] Is he single?
AG: I think he is aggressively single.
RR: Really? He's got that Richard Gere, grey-haired sexy look.
AG: I noticed you were killing time watching Ryan Gosling .gifs earlier.
RR: Mmm, we do love us some Ryan Gosling.
RR: I don't know. Why is a margarita delicious? What can I say? It just f------ is, man.
AG: Tell me a bit about your romantic history.
RR: Any guy that I've ever really been into, I never liked him at first. I grow into liking people. And I'm not into guys from afar. People are always asking me about my celebrity crush, and I'm like, I don't know. I can say people are cute. Brad Pitt is a sculpture of a man, but I'm not squealing "Oh my God!" because I don't know him. I have to know somebody to have a crush on him.
AG: What about other relationships? What kind of friend are you?
RR: I don't know. [She turns to her best friend, sitting nearby.] Chime in, Marina. What kind of friend am I?
Marina Shafir: Very loyal.
RR: Ferociously loyal, almost to a fault. Do I have makeup all over my face?
AG: Are you a birthday rememberer?
RR: No. To be honest, I don't know some of my family members' birthdays.
MS: The only reason she knows my birthday is because it's her lucky number.
AG: What's your lucky number?
AG: How did you guys meet?
MS: You didn't like me.
RR: I liked you.
MS: No, you didn't. I complimented you on your Sponge Bob laces, on all sorts of things. Every time I tried to speak with you, you were a b----.
RR: I just had a b----- demeanor. Listen, the first time she tried to talk to me, I was listening to my music, and I'm really into my music. And she taps me and says, "That's Rage Against the Machine." And I'm like, "You made me stop listening to Rage Against the Machine so you could tell me that I was listening to Rage Against the Machine?"
MS: Such a b----.
AG: How old were you? How many years ago?
RR: We were both 13.
AG: How did you get past that rocky beginning?
RR: It was at a judo tournament. Everybody left to go eat after we all made weight, and I don't know why, we were on a sugar high and I was like, "Hey Marina, you want to see something I've never shown anybody before?" And I twerked for her, before twerking was a thing. Way back in 2005.
MS: We've been like sisters ever since.
AG: Is your friendship the kind that you give advice to each other?
MS: Only about boys. We're like, "No, no, no! He should not be doing that to you. No, no, no!"
RR: "Girrrl, you can do a whole lot better than that!" I've definitely had worse boyfriends than her.
AG: Do you have bad taste in men?
RR: Well, I'm single, so ...
AG: Would you rather date a bald guy or a short guy?
RR: I would rather date bald and tall.
AG: What movie have you watched more than any other movie?
RR: I think it's a four-way tie between "Fight Club," "The Fifth Element," "Pulp Fiction" and "When Harry Met Sally."
AG: What's the worst advice you've ever been given?
RR: Don't do MMA? [Laughs.] Thanks, Mom!
AG: How important is faith in your life?
RR: Every single good thing in my life happened because I had faith that there was goodness coming for me. It's how I was raised, to have a place and a purpose and know everything happens for a reason. I have faith that even missed opportunities are a blessing in disguise, and the very worst things that have happened in my life have resulted in the best things that have ever happened in my life.
AG: Does nature play a part in your outlook?
RR: Yes. I'm a big Southern California beach girl.
AG: What is it about the ocean that speaks to you?
RR: Being able to feel small.
AG: How do you imagine your old age?
RR: I never want to put a perfect body into the ground, so I'm going to wear my body out. What do I need two perfect knees at age 60 for? I picture myself as one of those floating heads in a tank like in "Futurama" because my body quit.
AG: Are you an organ donor?
AG: What virtue do you think is overrated?
RR: Maturity. Maturity is greatly overrated. That's one of my mom's favorite lines.
AG: When did she start telling you that?
RR: As a kid, so I wouldn't take myself too seriously. What is that Dr. Seuss quote? "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." I think that's what she wanted me to take away from that.
AG: And did you?
RR: As I got older I learned to be comfortable enough to act like myself. It took awhile to gain the confidence in every setting. I was extremely introverted and shy growing up. A lot of people are surprised to hear that since I'm so over the top now.
AG: Were you the kind of kid that would sit back and observe?
RR: I didn't talk coherently until was 6, so I was forced to be an observer. Not having that many words, I learned a lot of patience.
AG: How important is patience in your career? I would imagine it's pretty critical.
RR: One of my problems fighting is I am sometimes too impatient, and that's something I've had to really train. One day my coach made me hit the bag for 30 rounds so that I would learn patience.
AG: What is your idea of perfection?
RR: I like having a day where I can balance everything. My idea of paradise is to wake up in the morning, have coffee, go surfing or skimboarding, get in the ocean somehow. Then eat breakfast and go train, come home, chill with my dog and my friends and a big plate of buffalo wings and some sort of dessert a la mode. It's got to be hot and cold. I need two temperatures in my dessert.
AG: Do you think it's a good time or a tough time to be a woman in this culture?
RR: I think it's the best time yet, because it's always improving.
AG: How do you feel about how women are treated on social media?
RR: It can be creepy and weird. Personally, I wasn't allowed to have a cellphone until I was 16. I think having a cellphone becomes a social crutch, especially during those uncomfortable puberty years. If I had a kid, I would try to keep them out of social media until they were at least in their teens.
AG: Do you want to have kids some day?
RR: Definitely. I'm an ovarian goldmine. I can't waste these genes.
AG: Would you rather lose an arm or a leg?
AG: Would you rather be stronger than you are now or smarter than you are now?
RR: Smarter. I'm strong enough.
AG: Who do you want most to make proud?
RR: My mother. She lives on the border of Santa Monica and Venice. My sister and their family live nearby, too. We have the most entertaining family dinners. There is no topic off the table, and no one ever gets offended. It's a wit competition every time.
AG: Is everything a competition for you?
RR: Yes. Notice that I finished my drink first. Not an accident. Worse is, if I feel like I'm in a competition that I'm not going to win, I'm not playing. If people want to play Monopoly and I don't think I'm taking the victory, I'm like, "F--- it." I'm either in it to win or I'm not in it at all.
AG: What's the biggest lie you've ever told yourself?
RR: That I would be happy bartending for the rest of my life. I really tried to convince myself of that. That it would be great for me. But it just wasn't. I was meant for something else. And now I see why I felt that way.
AG: Did you ever have body image issues?
RR: Huge body image issues growing up. Big time! I absolutely loathed how I looked until I was around 22 years old.
AG: What happened at 22 that changed that trajectory?
RR: I stopped caring. I stopped looking at the scale. After the Olympics I didn't weigh myself. I ate as much as I wanted all the time. The feeling of having my belly full was something I was compelled to do, and once I got that out of my system, I felt like I was able to break my emotional dependency on food.
AG: Conflating food with feelings is a complicated struggle for many women.
RR: Listen, there's nothing wrong with your discipline or you just because you ate whatever. But if the best thing about your day is what you eat, there's something wrong with your f------ day. What changed for me is I was always thinking I wanted to make my body look a certain way so I would be happy. But when I made myself happy first, then the body came after. It was a journey of self-discovery and trial and error.
AG: When you say you wanted your body to look "a certain way," what was the image in your head?
RR: The image in my head was the Maxim cover girl. In the end, instead of making my body resemble one of those chicks, I decided to try to change the idea of what a Maxim chick could look like.
AG: And then, in September 2013, you were on the cover.
RR: I wasn't conventional, but apparently, I was acceptable. [Laughs.]
AG: Do you have a soundtrack for your life?
RR: Right now, my song is "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. That's my walk-out song. When I was going to the 2004 Olympics I was constantly playing to "Waiting" by Green Day. I was 17 and I was listening to that song and picturing myself surprising everyone by winning the gold. Didn't pan out that way. The most-played song on my iPod is "Strangers In The Night," a cover by Cake.
RR: Yeah. It's a good driving song. No one would think that would be my song.
AG: It's pretty emo. Does anything scare you outside of your career? Spiders? Heights?
RR: My only fear is failure. I like spiders. I used to collect bugs when I was a kid. I love heights. I've been bungee jumping a bunch of times. I would love to go parachuting. I'm cool with snakes. I can hook a rattlesnake. I've done it before.
AG: What makes you feel out of control?
RR: Drinking too much, which is why I barely do it now. It's like a once-a-year event, and I always regret it. I'll start to feel like, "Ahhhh, let's go dancing tonight, yes, woo!" I'll do the "white-girl woo," and it's not good. Alcohol is bad, kids. Stop at buzzed. "Stop at buzzed" is my mantra.
AG: What about feelings? Do your feelings ever make you feel out of control?
RR: Not out of control, but I won't say I'm a control freak, either. I'm an extremely emotional person and kind of impulsive. I'm calculated in business, impulsive in my life.
AG: What sports do you watch?
RR: Boxing, MMA and tennis. I like individual sports the most. I feel like team sports dilute pressure, and I don't really understand why everyone likes them so much.
AG: What other women do you admire?
RR: Serena Williams, and, of course, my mother. But I love watching Serena. I think she's awesome.
AG: Do you play tennis?
RR: I'm really bad with ball sports. I have been hit in the face with every type of ball.
AG: Are you sure you want to say that?
RR: [Laughs.] I'm serious. Basketball, football, softball, baseball, foosball, pinball, ping-pong ball, rugby ball, cricket ball. They have all hit me in the face.
RR: I have tiny hands. I can't catch things. I have the smallest hands in the UFC. My hands are smaller than 115-pound girls'. I have the strongest chin and the most tiny, fragile hands.
AG: The bantamweight champion of the world has elf hands?
RR: [Holds up her palms, wrinkles her nose.] Carnie hands.
AG: How was high school for you?
RR: I dropped out sophomore year. It was not cool for me. I was far from popular. I got teased a lot.
AG: Teased for what?
RR: I was a muscular girl. I never wore makeup a single day. I always had my hair up, dressed in baggy clothes because I was embarrassed about how my body looked. I was shy. Having cauliflower ears and ringworm are another sure way to get teased.
AG: So you said goodbye to all that and pursued athletics?
RR: I decided to go to the Olympics instead.
AG: Do you believe in destiny?
AG: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RR: It depends on the day. Usually, I look in the mirror and ask, "What have you gotten yourself into now?" I will literally ask myself that question. Right before a fight, for example. Or I'll be on a photo shoot, tanned up in a swimsuit. Or say I'm in a trailer on a movie set and I'm in costume. Or a week after a fight, when I've gained a few pounds and can't see the bones in my feet anymore. Then, as I always do, I will stare at the reflection of my marshmallowy face and ask, "What have you gotten yourself into now?"
AG: And what's your answer?
RR: I just shrug and say, "I don't know, but you're here, so you better f------ deal with it, girl."